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Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) hopes its new Nook Tablet will be all things to all users and a serious Kindle Fire competitor. B&N CEO William Lynch’s presentation of the $249 7-inch Android tablet focused on everything from HD video to reading with your kids. The Nook Tablet will be available on November 18, just two days after the Kindle Fire ships on November 16–and Barnes & Noble says customers should choose its device instead of the Fire because it offers more storage, a faster processor, more third-party entertainment and a better display.
The Nook Tablet weighs just 14.1 ounces, runs over WiFi, boasts a dual-core processor and 16 GB of storage and has a “vivid-view color screen” developed in partnership with LG (SEO: 066570). The IPS laminated screen decreases glare, “especially important when you’re reading a book or watching a movie with your child or partner.” Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX), Hulu Plus and Pandora (NYSE: P) all come preloaded on the tablet. Battery life is nine hours of continuous video playback or 11.5 hours of reading with power-save mode on and wireless off. (Most of these details were leaked last week.)
Barnes & Noble is also dropping the prices of its other devices and releasing upgrades for them. The Nook Color, which was $249 and has “sold millions,” is now $199 and will get “greater tablet functionality” like easier access to the Web, more music and apps. The Nook Simple Touch e-reader, which was $139, is now $99, with “no annoying ads” and an upgrade that includes “25 percent faster page turns” and a feature called “Best-Text,” which optimizes individual letters to make them crisper and easier to read. Current Nook Simple Touch owners will be able to download that update this week. Barnes & Noble continues to hold about 27 percent of the e-reader market, Lynch said, a percentage that hasn’t changed since May despite the launch of the Nook Simple Touch Reader that month. When I asked how the company plans to increase that percentage, specifically on the e-reader side, he said it’s “through the three products we’ve shown you today.” Update: It appears that Barnes & Noble also plans to expand the Nook internationally–though it is unclear which device is heading abroad first, or if all of them are. Lynch told UK book trade publication The Bookseller that “publishers and consumers in the UK should expect an announcement within the next four months about the Nook going international. ‘We want to do it right,’ he commented. Further details on the planned launch were not immediately available.”
Lynch and Barnes & Noble president of digital products Jamie Iannone explicitly compared Barnes & Noble’s devices to the Kindle Fire and Kindle e-readers, a necessity with the products launching a couple of days apart from each other. The Kindle Fire is “deficient for a media tablet,” Lynch said, with only 8 GB of storage (“and only 6 GB of usable storage,” a stat repeated throughout the presentation) compared to the Nook Tablet’s 16 GB. While Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is widely promoting its cloud storage, Lynch said “people don’t always want to be connected to WiFi to get their content,” and the extra storage is worth “at least $20” of the additional $50 on the Nook Tablet’s price.
“To accelerate speed to market, Amazon employed the BlackBerry PlayBook design and the same company,” Lynch said, “which is why the devices look so much the same.” And he said the Kindle Fire is “a vending machine for Amazon services,” with little choice for customers. Nook aims to offer content from “the best names in entertainment.” The device is preloaded with Netflix, Pandora and Hulu Plus, with other apps like Rhapsody, Grooveshark and MOG available. The Nook Tablet has the “deepest integration of Netflix with any tablet,” Lynch said, and Netflix recommendations are pushed to the home screen of the device. “We’ve decided we’re going to partner with the world’s most popular media services and let the consumer choose.” He said that if he had to choose one word to describe the tablet, it would be “open.” (However, users don’t have access to the full Android app store.)
When comparing the Nook Simple Touch to the upcoming Kindle Touch, Iannone described the Kindle Touch “a first-generation touchscreen product that is yet to ship.” That sentiment was stressed throughout the presentation: Everyone’s talking about how great the Kindles are but nobody has actually held or tried one out yet. By contrast, Barnes & Noble held a hands-on demonstration after the press event and says that it’s been developing the Nook Tablet for “a year.” Of course, since people will be holding the new Kindle devices in the matter of weeks, they’ll be able to judge which is better for themselves pretty soon. “I encourage you to put the two products side by side,” Iannone said. One way Barnes & Noble is differentiating the Nook Simple Touch from the Kindle Touch is stressing that the $99 Nook is ad-free, while the $99 Kindle Touch is ad-supported (the non-ad-supported version is $139). “Our competitor says the ability to turn off the ads is worth $40,” Iannone said. “Many e-readers will be given as gifts this holiday season. Do you really want to have to make the decision to spend the extra $40 on your friend or give them an ad-supported product?” As a bonus, he said, “Come into one of our stores and we’ll gift-wrap it for you for free.”